Bangor Daily News sports reporters Larry Mahoney and Adam Robinson know high school sports. Mahoney has been covering the Maine high school basketball tournament for 48 years, and while Robinson has just five years in comparison, he boasts a 73.7 percent success rate in his predictions for the recent high school football season.
They’ve crunched the numbers, and here are their predictions for this year’s North regional high school basketball tournaments.
Class AA North Boys
Players to watch: Teigan Pelletier, junior, forward, Oxford Hills; Silvano Ismail, senior, guard, Cheverus; Zach McLaughlin, junior, guard, Hampden Academy.
Favorites: Oxford Hills enters the AA North boys tournament at the prohibitive favorites this winter. The Vikings reached the AA title game last season and return Pelletier (20.1 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game) as well as Cole Pulkkinen at guard (17.1 ppg, 3.1 assists per game). Oxford Hills is deep, with Holden Shaw, Eli Soehren and Tanner Bickford giving the Vikings great size, physicality and scoring.
Darkhorse: Lewiston is the only team to knock off Oxford Hills this season and earned the victory due in part to 17 points from Yusuf Dakane (23 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 spg). Dakane is a shifty guard that changes the game on both sides of the ball and can guard anyone in front of him. Eli Bigelow adds good size and Jabrill Holloman can score with the best of Class AA, as well. AA North will be a dog fight and Lewiston could find themselves atop the mountain at the end.
Prediction: Oxford Hills 65, Lewiston 58. Class AA North has shown that Oxford Hills is the top team and then a group of Lewiston, Portland, Cheverus and Hampden are all in a tier of their own. I think Pelletier and the Vikings’ size will be too much for Lewiston to handle as Oxford Hills will want to exact revenge on its only loss on the schedule.
Class AA North Girls
Players to watch: Maddie Fitzpatrick, junior, guard, Cheverus; Sierra Carson, senior, guard, Oxford Hills; Emmie Streams, senior, guard, Bangor.
Favorites: Cheverus of Portland, 16-2, and Oxford Hills of South Paris, 17-1, met in last year’s championship game won by Cheverus and that looks like the matchup again this season. Defending state champ Cheverus had to replace several important seniors but they have two of the best players in the state in Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl All-State first team selection Fitzpatrick (17.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 5.1 apg) and second teamer Emma Lizotte (17 ppg, 10.2 rpg). Oxford Hills’ Carson was also a first teamer and is having an outstanding senior year averaging 17.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4 apg. Sophomore forward Ella Pelletier has been a force in the post (14.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and the Vikings have three of the top 3-point shooters in AA North in junior Tristen Derenburger (3.3 threes made per game), senior Molly Corbett (2 mpg) and Carson (1.8 mpg).
Darkhorse: Bangor has a terrific pair in senior forward Abbie Quinn and All-BDN second team guard Streams. Quinn leads AA North in rebounding (12.1 rpg) and is seventh in scoring (14.3 ppg) while Streams is the division’s assists leader (6.6 apg) and is second in steals (3.7). In order for the Rams to make a run, they must hit their outside shots and that part of their game has been inconsistent. They are very good defensively and use their athleticism to pressure the ball all over the court.
Prediction: Cheverus 58, Oxford Hills 57 (OT). Oxford Hills has more scoring balance and depth but Fitzpatrick is a matchup nightmare for any team with her size, wingspan and point guard skills and she will be the deciding factor.
Class A North Boys
Players to watch: Brady Saunders, senior, guard, Brewer; Adam Savage, senior, forward, Skowhegan; Madden White, senior, forward, Nokomis.
Favorites: The Brewer Witches finished the season 17-1 and dominated the majority of the games on their schedule. Led by Saunders (21.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.7 apg), the Witches have a positive point differential of 24.1 points per game. Brewer’s starting-five is strong and plays well together and looks poised to return to the Class A North title game and finally break through to the final.
Darkhorse: Nokomis (13-5) won six games in a row to end the regular season and secured the second seed in the region. Their strong finish brought the Warriors up the standings over the final weeks. White gets a lot of shine on Nokomis, which is trying to repeat as Class A champions, but Alex Grant, Connor Sides, Grady Hartsgrove and Dawson Townsend are good pieces that work well together.
Prediction: Brewer 70, Skowhegan 62. In the second-to-last regular season game, Skowhegan went into Brewer High School and ended the Witches’ undefeated season. The energy was high, the emotions came to a boiling point and the River Hawks escaped with a win. This time in the Class A North final, Saunders will take the game over, Brewer’s supporting cast will crash the boards and the Witches will finally reach the Class A state final.
Class A North Girls
Players to watch: Lizzy Gruber, senior, center, Gardiner; Hope Bouchard, senior, guard, Lawrence; Sage Fortin, senior, guard, Cony.
Favorites: From day one, everything pointed to a dynamic showdown between 6-foot-4 Gruber and her Gardiner Tigers against talented guard Bouchard and her Lawrence Bulldogs and that is still the case. The Tigers went 18-0 including a pair of wins over Lawrence while the 15-3 Bulldogs only lost to Gardiner and Class AA contender Bangor. Gruber, who is going to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, has accomplished the rare feat of scoring 1,000 points and grabbing 1,000 rebounds. She also has a good supporting cast including Taylor Takatsu, Megan Gallagher and Savannah Brown. Bouchard is one of the state’s premier guards and can score from anywhere.
Darkhorse: Cony of Augusta went 14-4, including an overtime loss to Gardiner. Fortin is a top-notch point guard who can shoot from the outside or penetrate. The Rams can’t match the production in the paint that Gardiner and Lawrence have but they can shoot outside and if they are having a hot night, they are capable of upsetting anyone.
Prediction: Lawrence 60, Gardiner 59. It is hard to beat a team three times and Lawrence has more scoring options than Gardiner. Bouchard will use her quickness to get to the rim or distribute the ball to an open teammate.
Class B North Boys
Players to watch: Jason Reynolds, senior, forward, Winslow; Chance Mercier, junior, guard, Ellsworth; Pierce Walston, junior, guard, Orono; Braydon Brown, senior, forward, Old Town.
Favorites: After losing in the Class B title game last season, Ellsworth is undefeated once again after the regular season and is poised to make yet another run. Mercier (27.1 ppg) also leads the team in rebounds, assists steals and 3-pointers. Ellsworth will go as far as Mercier brings them. Peter Keblinsky (8.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has emerged as a solid weapon on offense alongside Eamon MacDonald (6.1 ppg). The Eagles players think their defense has improved this season with Keblinsky affecting shots at the rim.
Darkhorse: Winslow is the second seeded team in Class B North with a record of 17-1, with its only loss to Lincoln Academy in the second game of the season. It’s hard to call Winslow a dark horse with such a strong record and rank, but Winslow hasn’t played anyone in the top eight seeds, thus bringing doubt as to how the Black Raiders will play against B North’s best. Still, Reynolds (28.8 ppg, 15.5 rpg) is one of the best scorers and rebounders in Maine this season and has the ability to bring Winslow deep into the playoffs.
Prediction: Ellsworth 65, Orono 62. Mercier has played at such a high level this season that it will take a herculean effort to knock off the Eagles. In the only regular season matchup between these two teams, Ellsworth started the game on fire before Orono chipped away and made it a single-digit game late. Orono couldn’t finish the job and Ellsworth was able to close the victory, which is something that the Eagles have worked on this year. I think it will be close, but Mercier will lead the team to a regional title over the Red Riots once again.
Class B North Girls
Players to watch: Saige Evans, junior, forward, Old Town; Grace Jaffray, sophomore, forward, Ellsworth; Madelynn Deprey, sophomore, forward, Caribou.
Favorites: Old Town went 18-0 including wins over Caribou and Ellsworth and has to be considered the favorite. Reigning Big East Player of the Year Evans (17.3 ppg, Big East-leading 11 rpg) and sharpshooting guard Makayla Emerson (10.5 ppg, 2.9 apg) provide the Coyotes with a formidable inside-outside scoring threat and freshman Taylor Loring (11.9 ppg, 3.1 spg, 2.6 apg) has been a very nice addition. Their 61-58 win over Ellsworth was the only time the Coyotes have given up more than 42 points in a game as their swarming defense is tough to handle and they generate easy transition baskets off turnovers.
Darkhorse: Caribou and Ellsworth were both 15-3 and are capable of knocking off the Coyotes. Caribou won a pair of three-point games against Ellsworth and have the conference’s scoring leader in Deprey (20.6 ppg). She has also averaged seven rebounds per game. Teammate Carly Morrow had hauled in 6.6 per game. Jaffray has been having an outstanding year for Ellsworth as she is second in Big East B North in scoring (19.3 ppg) and steals (3.6) and third in rebounding (8.7). Abby Radel (12.1 ppg) has complemented her nicely.
Prediction: Old Town 54, Ellsworth 49. Ellsworth will finally beat Caribou in a scintillating semifinal but the Coyotes are more battle-tested, losing to Hermon in the B North final a year ago, and are anxious to erase the memories of that loss.
Class C North Boys
Players to watch: Ethan Daigle, junior, guard, Fort Kent; Will Kusneirz, senior, guard, Dexter; Jase Cook, senior, guard, Calais. Jason Reynolds, senior, forward, Winslow; Chance Mercier, junior, guard, Ellsworth; Pierce Walston, junior, guard, Orono; Braydon Brown, senior, forward, Old Town.
Favorites: Dexter, last year’s Class C state runner-up, returns with a 16-2 record with both losses coming to Class B’s Foxcroft Academy. While only the third seed, Dexter returned a lot of its team from last year’s regional title-winning squad. Kusnierz is one of the region’s top scorers and is a good defender. Kayden Kimball and Ethan Doherty are additional scorers for the Tigers.
Darkhorse: Calais (15-3) is the top seed in C North, so it may be odd to think of it as the darkhorse, but Calais brings some questions to the tournament. Calais has one loss each to a Class B, C and D team this year, but having a scorer like Cook can keep you in any game. Cook, who scored 42 points in an 85-82 win over Machias, will have to be a big part of Calais’ success in the tournament.
Prediction: Dexter 56, Calais 48. Kusneirz and Dexter have been here before and won this game before, and I think the experience will be the difference maker. Dexter plays good defense and will be able to slow down Cook and Calais to reach a second-consecutive Class C title game.
Class C North Girls
Players to watch: Anna Oliver, sophomore, guard, Hodgdon; Izzy Allen, junior, guard-forward Central; Mazie Peach, junior, forward-center, Dexter.
Favorites: Dexter, Penobscot Valley of Howland and Hodgdon all finished the regular season at 17-1 with Dexter and Penobscot Valley splitting their two regular season contests. Any one of the three could win it as all three have the components necessary to win a championship. The addition of resourceful post player Lexi Rackliff, who transferred from Class D state champion Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, has given Hodgdon a nice complement to sophomore sensation Oliver and outside shooters Sadie Thompson and Marissa Dow. PVHS is tall and extremely athletic with Ellie Austin, Rylee Moulton and Ashlyn St. Cyr among the Howlers’ catalysts, along with twins Kaya and Holly Loring. Dexter has a dominant post player in Peach, and plenty of other scoring options in the likes of Jozlynn Paige, Abi Corson, Elizabeth Kinney and Cally Gudroe. And Dexter has held 13 opponents to 30 points or less with its tenacious defense.
Darkhorse: Central has the Allen sisters: UMaine commit Izzy, who is a 1,000-point scorer, and freshman sister Mary, who has proven to be a productive scorer who takes some of the pressure off her sister.
Prediction: Hodgdon 44, Dexter 41. Oliver is a special player. She stood out in the tournament as a freshman last season and is a difference-maker. Dexter will make life difficult for her with its defense but Oliver will still manage to lead the Hawks to the win.
Class D North Boys
Players to watch: Dylan Burpee, junior, guard, Southern Aroostook; Shane Feeney, senior, forward, Machias; Grady Ritchie, senior, guard, Katahdin.
Favorites: Southern Aroostook (18-0) is the favorite once again in D North as the Warriors attempt to defend its Class D state championship. Hunter Burpee graduated but Dylan Burpee is a strong junior guard that has helped lead Southern Aroostook to a dominant regular season. The Warriors have won by an average of 40 points per game.
Darkhorse: Katahdin, because of the simple fact that Ritchie is such a great scorer. Katahdin has losses to Southern Aroostook of 25 points and 21 points but has won nine of its last 10 games and, in the middle of the streak, got a 59-point performance from Ritchie in a win against East Grand.
Prediction: Southern Aroostook 62, Machias 55. Machias’ Feeney is a double-double machine and can also bring the ball up for the team. Feeney had a monster 28-point, 29-rebound game against Bangor Christian in the final game of the regular season and both Machias and Southern Aroostook are playing good basketball as they enter the playoffs. Southern Aroostook’s experience will put it over the top and the Warriors will reach the Class D final again.
Class D North Girls
Players to watch: Madison Russell, senior, guard, Southern Aroostook; Cami Shields, senior, guard, Southern Aroostook; Lilly Roy, junior, guard, Wisdom.
Favorites: Ever since the two teams met in last year’s regional final, it was assumed that Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and Wisdom of St. Agatha would meet again this year and that is certainly how it’s shaping up. There are four 1,000-point scorers between the two teams with Russell and Shields accomplishing the milestone for Southern Aroostook and Roy and Olivia Ouellette doing it for Wisdom. Wisdom is 18-0 and Southern Aroostook is 15-3 but those three losses have been to Class C contenders Penobscot Valley (2) and Hodgdon.
Darkhorse: Machias went 15-3 with Kristin Grant and Skyler Tinker being among the key contributors.
Prediction: Southern Aroostook 52, Wisdom 46. The Warriors have won three state titles in four years and have played a much tougher schedule than Wisdom, which won all but two of its games by at least 27 points. But this Wisdom team is much better than last year’s and will give the Warriors a real battle.